Banajee Agiary in Calcutta is now an Electrical Market

The huge Rustomjee Cowasjee Banajee Agiary (Agiary – is a fire temple in which Parsi Zoroastrians pray) at 26 Ezra Street in Central Kolkata has been turned into an electrical market of sorts, but who cares!

Article by Phiroze Edulji | News World India

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation know that time and tide wait for none and thus are not at all concerned to evict the squatters and restore the said temple in spite of the Government of West Bengal declaring it as “Heritage Building” on 6th October 2007 pursuant to the recommendation of the Expert Committee of the Heritage Buildings.

The fire temple which is Gothic in style with huge Tuscan pillars and dentil ornamentation is in a remorseful state. Plasters are peeling off from each wall; the marbles on the floor have been scooped out and sold. Vegetation growth has weakened the entire structure. Every inch of the building, including the temple basement, has been encroached upon by business units. Even the gate can scarcely be seen from the road.

There has also been a documentary made, showing the deplorable state of affairs titled: “A Brief Stroll Around The Parsee Fire Temple In Ezra Street, Calcutta.”

Since Rustomjee has thrown in the towel, that he cannot maintain the fire temple anymore, it is for the Parsis from across the world to unite and fight to get back the fire temple which is rightfully theirs and restore the fire temple to its former glory.

The fire temple was inaugurated on 16th September 1839 and was built by Rustomjee Cowasjee Banajee. On 19th December 1842, a trust was formed with the object that from the rents and profits of Rustomji’s bazaar lying at Beliaghata then a suburb of Kolkata, the fire temple would be maintained.

Over a period of time disputes arose in the said trust which was subject matter of lawsuits before the Hon’ble High Court at Calcutta. The trustees were unable to manage the affairs of the fire temple and ultimately the fire temple shut down sometime in the 1980’s though the exact date or year is unknown. Subsequently, unscrupulous traders started to encroach upon this fire temple.

The Ezra St Fire Temple is presently managed by one C. M. Rustomjee who claims to be the Shebait Priest of the Fire Temple and as per him the said trust is a “Public Charitable Trust”.

fire-temple-calcutta-fi

(Photo courtesy: Brian Paul Bach)

However in the Parsi Zoroastrian religion there is no such concept of Shebait Priest. Upon an application moved by Rustomjee in 2012,  the Calcutta High Court directed the trial court to hear his application for recalling of the order whereby the said Rustomjee was directed to “give delivery of operation of the Agiary Empowerment in 26 Ezra Street” to one Suresh Kumar Daga, Director of Monotona Marketing Private Limited.

In another writ petition moved by the said Rustomjee, Hon’ble Justice Shivakant Prasad directed “the Municipal Commissioner and the concerned respondents authorities to take all possible steps and to exercise their power for protection and preservation of the heritage building as the trustees of Rustomjee Cowasjee Agiari Fire Temple Charitable Trust have failed to maintain, preserve and conserve it due to their financial condition”.

Since Rustomjee has thrown in the towel, that he cannot maintain the fire temple anymore, it is for the Parsis from across the world to unite and fight to get back the fire temple which is rightfully theirs and restore the fire temple to its former glory.

The Central Government

rustomjee

(Photo courtesy: Brian Paul Bach)

The Prime Minister even when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat was always promoting the Parsis who are a microscopic minority. In 2011, Modi as CM had visited Udvada in Gujarat, the Mecca of the Parsis, where the Holy “Iranshah Fire”, was consecrated when the Parsis first landed in India some 1,300 year ago. It was predicted by the high priests that Modi would return to the holy site as Prime Minister of India. True to his word, Modi returned to Udvada in December 2015 as the Prime Minister. It was thanks to Modi that Udvada was declared a “National Heritage” site.

After the BJP came to power at New Delhi following the 2014 General Elections, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which falls under the Ministry of Culture has shown keen interest in the said fire temple. ASI regional director (east), Dr P K Mishra stated that he would recommend to the government to turn the fire temple into a monument of “National Importance”. Dr Mishra was further of the opinion that urgent restoration work is required to protect the temple from complete destruction.

The So Called Liberals

namo-guj-fire-temple

(Photo courtesy: Brian Paul Bach)

Why the Left Front and the so called Liberals didn’t speak when this fire temple was being plundered? The paradox is that the left, liberals and the media houses do not want to raise this issue. When they can’t stop speaking for Dadri incident and Beef controversy, why then do they not have the courage to speak against Mamata Banerjee’s Government for not doing anything to save the temple.

When authors and historians have been intentionally targeting the Modi Government for increasing alleged incidents of religious intolerance in the country, why don’t they come out and protest the desecration of the fire temple.

Indeed, the Dadri incident was appalling and law must take its own course but a prudent heart always speaks against injustice anywhere in the society. They don’t differentiate between prejudices against minorities.

Only time will tell, if the illegal squatters will be evicted and the temple be restored to its original grandeur or would a part of our rich “Bengali History” which we all are so ever proud of SUCCUMB to unscrupulous land sharks.

As aptly stated by Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. How come such liberals never come forward to give up their awards for what has been done to the fire temple? The answer is that they would not get the desired media publicity which they crave for; since 50 thousand Parsis in a population of billions don’t matter.

If this is not shocking enough let the so called left and liberals be succulently reminded that amongst the encroachers at the fire temple is the Communist Party of India who have their office in the fire temple as a name plate suggests.

Mamata Banerjee Government

14

(Photo courtesy: Brian Paul Bach)

The genius of the apathy of the State Government towards the Parsis is twofold.

Firstly, a mere Rs 500 in Kolkata don’t politically matter and secondly, the Tata Nano Singur controversy, the issue generated by land acquisition of the proposed Nano factory of Tata Motors at Singur in Hooghly District, West Bengal, which has been continuously opposed by the present government.

In fact Amit Mitra the finance minster of West Bengal once stated that “Tata (Ratan) is getting old and suffering from delusion. I do not know why he cannot understand about what is happening,” regarding a recent controversy about industrialization in Bengal. Since the Tata Empire is controlled by Parsis, the present government has decided to give the Parsis a “Royal Ignore”. It seems that only one minority is present in West Bengal when it comes to government schemes and initiatives.

Hello! Ms. Mamata Banerjee we do exist. Till Parsis are seen in museums across the country allow them to live with dignity.

Subsequently, when Parsis are only found in museums do protect the Parsis temples (there is another fire temple at Metcalfe Street, Kolkata) as heritage structures for it would be impossible for you to ever recreate one in West Bengal again.

If only the Government had followed the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our great Indian Nation when he said, “I am proud of my country, India, for having produced the splendid Zoroastrian stock, in numbers beneath contempt, but in charity and  philanthropy perhaps unequalled and certainly unsurpassed”.

Only time will tell, if the illegal squatters will be evicted and the temple be restored to its original grandeur or would a part of our rich “Bengali History” which we all are so ever proud of SUCCUMB to unscrupulous land sharks.

(Phiroze Edulji is a lawyer by profession and is Managing Partner of Edulji&Edulji. He can be contacted on phiroze@edulji.com. The views expressed here solely belongs to the writer and does not in any way reflect the views and opinions of News World India)